Head Size: 100 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight: 11.3 oz.
Balance: 4 pts. HL
RA Rating: 73
Beam Width: 24 mm /26 mm /17 mm
String Pattern: 16x19
Just about two years ago, Asics expanded its presence in the tennis world by releasing its first frames. It was a relatively quiet launch as the company decided to dip its toe in the underserved oversized racquet market. The plan all along, however, was to eventually up its legitimacy with a foray into the 100 sq. in. performance frame category.
Enter the BZ 100.
It’s a unique frame for several reasons, not the least of which is the mere fact that it exists at all. The racquet game is a tough one that most apparel companies shy away from. Nike has never attempted to cross-over into equipment as it has in golf. Adidas has produced frames over the years—Ivan Lendl famously used one in his prime which was reported a paint job on a Kneissl—and attempted a new line of performance frames about five years, which was met with little fanfare.
The Adidas racquets weren’t terrible performers, but suffered the pitfall of being undistinguished—they piggybacked on the Barricade shoe name, their appearance was rather forgettable, and there was no innovation to set them apart. It was a lesson not lost on Asics.
Keeping with the distinctive look of the company’s shoes, the BZ 100 cosmetics are striking. Each of our testers have complimented the frame’s graphics and unique appearance. From this standpoint, the frame hits an unquestioned home run.
Then there’s the BZ, or Bending Zone, in the frame’s throat. The shaft has a thinner, wider cross-section, designed to bend at impact for enhanced feel and control. The lollipop-shaped head is much stiffer to provide extra pop and pace. The marriage of firm head and flexible throat gives the frame a distinctive feel and is intended to supply the BZ 100 with a highly desirable level of controllable power.
And from a performance standpoint it certainly delivered on the control. Shots hit in the sweet spot felt solid, and were easily directed. The frame was highly maneuverable—we measured the swingweight at just over 300—and whipped quickly through the strike zone for above average access to spin. Hitting rally balls with good depth and topspin was a consistent result.
Making contact outside the sweet spot, however—especially toward the top of the frame—made the BZ a little buzzy. That was when the high stiffness of the racquet became more of a factor, and the power harder to find. I almost always play with a vibration dampener, and it was needed with this frame. From my experience, and those of our testers, the racquet seems particularly string sensitive. Asics sent the frame strung in the mid-50s with a 16g polyester, which definitely enhanced the firmness of the frame. When strung with a full bed of poly, the racquet performed much better with a thin gauge of a soft variety, strung at the mid-to-upper 40s. At higher tensions it was better to opt for a hybrid, or even all multifilament.
The frame was also adept at dishing out and receiving pace—up to a point. The concession for all that easy handling is a lack of mass in the head, robbing shots of plow through. Ground strokes and serves were easy to manipulate, but they weren’t always easy to punish. When I tried to rev up a swing to really give the ball a ride, there were occasions when the frame fought me. Serves seemed to react better to placement, rather than pounding. I think adding just a little bit of weight to the hoop would make a marked difference in this regard.
The same can be said in the frame's ability to defend hard-hit shots. If I didn’t find the sweet spot when returning, these types of balls I paid a price in terms of comfort and result (a few sitting ducks).
Thanks to its quickness, the BZ was a surprising performer at net. It had just enough feel to hit with touch, and just enough pop to hit through the court. But catching a whistling pass close to the top of the frame could produce some wobble. As is, the frame has the substance to work for intermediate players, but advanced play with faster swing and ball speeds will probably necessitate the BZ to fatten up a bit.
Overall, I found the BZ 100 a promising start for Asics. The feel and performance won’t be for everyone, and it may take a little patience to dial in the proper string/tension combo to showcase its best attributes. But with a little experimentation, and perhaps some customization, the frame could potentially play as good as it looks.
The intrigue surrounding a new entry in the performance category drew a lot of feedback from our panel of testers. And here with his quick take on the BZ 100 is frequent contributor and long-time equipment evaluator, Kevin Brandt, director of tennis at the Star Island Resort in Kissimmee, Florida:
Kevin Brandt: I am a huge fan of Asics tennis shoes; their comfort and performance are as good or better than anything in the industry. And even when their colors or designs are a bit over the top, they are still fun and scream, "look at me!" If you've decided to take on the big dogs and enter the busiest and most popular racquet category, a company needs to come out swinging with that kind of attitude. And the BZ 100 definitely grabs a player’s attention.
Outside of its high stiffness rating, the specs of the frame are right in line with what I've preferred to play with for the last five years: 100 sq. in. head, a little more than 11 oz. strung, and a fairly open string pattern. The head shape is rounder than most racquets, and resembles and feels very similar to the old Head Extreme models.
I warmed up short with it and the softer shots felt good. But as I backed up and started swinging away the frame felt stiffer and the reverb from any off-center shots was more noticeable. Even on well-struck balls I felt there was enough vibration to warrant placing a dampener in the strings. Once in place the dampener did make a difference, but in general the response still didn't feel as clean as other frames in this category.
The overall play of the racquet was mostly positive; for me it was just a feel issue. And when the racquet feels different, I do what most players do: Change my swing. In this case it meant I backed down and didn't swing away, even when the opportunity was right. The frame felt good and was effective on kick serves and ground strokes with heavy spin, so I think it would play well for someone with a medium swing speed that brushes, rather than flattens the ball. It was controllable and somewhat versatile at net, but it's still probably not for a touch player. I found it responded best when punching or hammering volleys.
Asics has made a worthwhile racquet, but I think there’s definitely room for growth. The BZ 100 does some things well that certain players with a taste for rather firm frames with some feedback will definitely appreciate. But to capture a wider audience, the next generation should adopt more of the superior comfort features that have made Asics shoes so popular.
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